Royal Society Publishing

Worker policing by egg eating in the ponerine ant Pachycondyla inversa

Patrizia D'Ettorre , Jürgen Heinze , Francis L. W. Ratnieks


We investigated worker policing by egg eating in the ponerine ant Pachycondyla inversa, a species with morphologically distinct queens and workers. Colonies were split into one half with the queen and one half without. Workers in queenless colony fragments started laying unfertilized male eggs after three weeks. Worker–laid eggs and queen–laid eggs were introduced into five other queenright colonies with a single queen and three colonies with multiple queens, and their fate was observed for 30 min. Significantly more worker–laid eggs (range of 35–62%, mean of 46%) than queen–laid eggs (range of 5–31%, mean of 15%) were eaten by workers in single–queen colonies, and the same trend was seen in multiple–queen colonies. This seems to be the first well–documented study of ants with a distinct caste polymorphism to show that workers kill worker–laid eggs in preference to queen–laid eggs. Chemical analyses showed that the surfaces of queen–laid and worker–laid eggs have different chemical profiles as a result of different relative proportions of several hydrocarbons. Such differences might provide the information necessary for differential treatment of eggs. One particular alkane, 3,11–dimeC27, was significantly more abundant on the surfaces of queen–laid eggs. This substance is also the most abundant compound on the cuticles of egg layers.